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AirMagnet Duo a/b Wireless Laptop Analyzer

Similar to their popular handheld and laptop-based analyzers, AirMagnet's newly-released Duo a/b Laptop Analyzer offers functions such as WLAN administration, installation surveying, security assessments, connection troubleshooting, performance management and operational support functions. The big difference, however, is that the Duo a/b includes support for 5GHz 802.11a in addition to 2.4GHz 802.11b networks.

The AirMagnet Duo a/b includes software that you install on a laptop and a PC Card NIC, the Netgear WAB501 Dual Band Wireless Adapter. The price of $3,495 includes the software, the radio card and one year of support and software upgrades.

A definite enhancement of the AirMagnet Duo a/b over older AirMagnet analyzers is that you can now use one device to perform site surveys, security assessments and troubleshooting tasks on wireless LANs using both 802.11a and 802.11b. A single unit for both technologies makes a lot of sense with the growing number of companies and public hotspots deploying 802.11a/b networks. The Duo a/b displays all fourteen 802.11b channels and twelve 802.11a channels within a single screen. This includes all bands worldwide, not just in North America.

Another improvement is the addition of an interface with a global positiong system (GPS) for tying location information (latitude and longitude) to signal measurements. This certainly eases the creation of radio frequency (RF) site survey security assessment reports because of the ability to pin point applicable pertinent data. A problem, however, is that GPS signals are often too weak indoors, which limits the use of the GPS function to outdoor site surveys.

As with their existing 802.11b laptop analyzer, AirMagnet has made good use of screen real estate when presenting information, such as signal strength within each channel, noise power, access point details, etc. The Duo a/b unit offers an option of displaying 802.11a only, 802.11b only, or both technologies at the same time, depending on the type of network you're analyzing. The user interface enables the viewing of up to six user-defined charts simultaneously, with the ability to drill down for more detailed information.

The Duo a/b contains many security auditing features and alarms, which has always been a strength of AirMagnet. The unit sets off custom alarms that signify an important event occurring, such as the identification of a rogue access point or deviation from security policies. The Duo a/b does a good job of detecting someone spoofing a MAC Address or causing a denial of service attack. You can record all information and play it back later, enabling you to see a variety of parameters that triggered an alarm.

In order to assist in tuning the wireless LAN for optimum performance, the Duo a/b identifies hidden node problems, excessive roaming and access point utilization. For example, the discovering of hidden nodes can prompt you to implement request-to-send / clear-to-send (RTS / CTS) functions.

To date, the AirMagnet Duo a/b is only available for laptops; it would be really nice to have this in a handheld unit.

As with other AirMagnet products, the Duo a/b focuses more on protocol analysis than RF spectrum analysis. The displays include signal strengths for each 802.11a and 802.11b channel, however, which is somewhat of a crude spectrum analyzer. This provides enough information to assess whether there is significant RF interference present.

Installation of the Laptop Analyzer was very easy. You simply insert the CD in the drive and the Netgear radio NIC in an open PC Card slot, then follow straight-forward installation instructions. The AirMagnet Duo a/b runs on Windows XP or Windows 2000.

If you want to evaluate Laptop Analyzer before spending any money, download a product demonstration.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the book, Wireless LANs and offers workshops on deploying wireless LANs.

Join Jim for discussions as he answers questions in the 802.11 Planet Forums.